Richard Hyatt: Ducks don't need handouts

April 8, 2014 

Feeding the geese and ducks at Cooper Creek makes us feel good. But now we have learned that casting bread on the water isn't good for the fowl.

For years people have taken loaves of bread to the park and shared them with the honking geese and quacking ducks. Tossing the pieces of bread makes little kids smile and older folks feel they've done something nice.

Trips to Cooper Creek are a daily ritual for many people.

They want the ducks and geese to have a full tummy and it's entertaining to watch them flap their wings and fight over a single bite of bread.

During spring break, we stopped off at Piggly Wiggly for some bread and headed to the park so our little one could visit her friends. When we arrived, we wondered where all the ducks were. Instead of swarming toward shore, they totally ignored us.

Then we saw the signs: "Bread Kills Waterfowl"

Another one said "Bread Kills Ducks and Geese," and asked visitors to use provided feeders that for just 25 cents offered a small handful of fowl food.

That was news to me, and my first thought was that our parks and rec department was trying to pick up some extra money on the side. But back home, a check of Audubon Society websites said otherwise.

Though the signs overstated the issue, bread is definitely harmful. It's like everything else. Bread, bagels and popcorn in moderation are all right, but a diet solely based on bread products isn't nutritional.

It's junk food for ducks. It makes them fat. They can't fly very well. They depend on handouts and don't learn to forage for food. They can't escape predators.

And Weight Watchers doesn't offer membership for mallards.

Beyond the dietary problems the bread offers for the waterfowl, it's also nasty. Uneaten bread clogs the natural waterways, causes unsightly odors and increases pollution.

It is rewarding and peaceful to watch them feed, but if you must feed them, don't pass the bread.

A more natural menu of plants, seeds, grasses and insects would be most healthy and lead to a longer life. If you want to put out a spread for them, pick up duck pellets from a farm supply store, slice up grapes, offer them grains such as cracked corn, barley or oats, or you can even defrost packages of frozen peas.

It's unhealthy to feed the ducks and geese things we wouldn't eat and unnatural to create situations where they fight about themselves for a piece of stale bread. Though generations of waterfowl have become dependent on humans, they will relearn old habits if we stay away.

They can survive without our bread and without our handouts.

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at

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